The Five Levels of Remote Work — and Why You May Be at Level 2

Remote Work

Companies around the world had to adapt to remote working practices, including the likes of Box, Amazon, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Even traditional organizations across fields such as real estate, accounting, and local government have had to embrace remote work.

However, there are different levels of proficiency and sophistication when it comes to remote work. Many new remote workers assume that having access to tools like Zoom, Slack, and email is enough to get the job done, but there’s more to it than that.

Automattic, the company behind WordPress which powers 35% of all websites on the internet, is one of the companies that have embraced remote work fully. Automattic has 1,170 employees who are distributed across more than 75 countries and speak 93 languages. The company has a valuation of US$3 billion and has made significant acquisitions like WooCommerce and blogging platform, Tumblr. What’s more, Automattic doesn’t have an office; its employees collaborate almost exclusively online.

Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic, recently spoke about what he calls the five levels of distributed teams. Mullenweg prefers the term “distributed” to “remote” because the latter implies that there is still a central place of work.

Mullenweg’s sentiments echo what many experts have been saying about remote work. Having access to tools like Zoom, Slack, and email is not enough to ensure remote work is successful. Here are the five levels of distributed teams that Mullenweg discussed:

Level 1: Non-Deliberate Action

This level is where nothing deliberate has been done by the company to support remote work. Employees can still do some work from home with their smartphone and email, and they may dial in to a few meetings. However, most work will be put off until they’re back in the office.

Level 2: Recreating the Office Online

This is the level where most companies currently reside. They have access to videoconferencing software (e.g., Zoom), instant messaging software (e.g., Slack), and email. However, instead of taking advantage of the new medium, teams end up recreating how they work in the office online, including bad habits like lengthy video calls with too many people, frequent interruptions through Slack and phone calls, and responding to emails more than 70 times a day. At this level, people are still expected to be online from 9 to 5 and may even be subject to screen-logging software installed by their employers.

Level 3: Adapting to the Medium

At this level, companies start to adapt to and take advantage of the medium. They use shared documents visible to all and updated in real-time during discussions, eliminating the risk of lost in translation errors and wasted time. Effective written communication becomes critical, and companies invest in better equipment for their employees, such as lighting for video calls and background noise-canceling microphones.

Level 4: Asynchronous Communication

At this level, companies embrace asynchronous communication, where employees can communicate without needing an immediate response. This approach can help reduce interruptions and increase productivity.

Level 5: Nirvana

At the final level, companies have embraced remote work fully. They have redesigned work processes to take advantage of the new medium, and remote work has become the norm. There’s no longer a distinction between remote and on-site employees, and everyone can work from anywhere in the world.

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